Hawk Life starts with the QB’s


What makes Armwood, well, Armwood? You may think you know, but then again you may be only half-right. We’ve come to know the Hawks’ for virtually everything BUT the quarterback position it seems in recent memory, but the fact of the matter is that the quarterback position at one of the state’s most-prolific programs since 2003 is widely considered the most-important job on the field.

What do Jameel Williams, Justin Hickman, Josh Grady, Noah Johnson, Daryl Richardson, Alvin Bailey and Darrian McNeal all have in common? Well, besides the fact they were–or are–starting quarterbacks at Armwood? The answer: all of the names listed above have either won a state title or made it to the state title game since 2003. Only Mywan Jackson is the lone starter who couldn’t reach the finals, but make no mistake–Jackson was still very successful. The Hawks reached the state semis in 2007 before losing to Booker T. Washington and reached the regional finals before losing to Plant in 2008 under his direction.

That’s a pretty impressive run for guys that don’t exactly get the love they deserve, since it is the Hawks’ ‘D’ that usually ends up with the coveted prospects and the staggering statistical accomplishments. We spoke with Armwood Offensive Coordinator, Evan Davis who has overseen the development of the quarterbacks and helped guide them to an appearance in the state finals all but one of his seasons as OC since 2010, when he took over for Chris Taylor. Davis, as a player at Armwood, was a part of the ‘BMW’ teams sharing time at quarterback with Jameel Williams and became QB’s coach (and still is) starting in 2006.

Everybody makes a big deal about Armwood’s Defense, but you’ve got to obviously score points to win ballgames. Playing quarterback at Armwood hasn’t always been the “flashiest” position, but more along the lines of getting-the-job-done–someone that can get the ball into the hands of their running backs or their playmakers and not have to carry the burden of winning the game outright. Is that a fair assessment?

10519768_10152603809984024_4105369873775449583_n“Yes–but the quarterback at Armwood has always been such a focal point in what we do,” said Davis before heading out into the May heat for spring practice. “Chris Taylor used to do a phenomenal job as our offensive coordinator from 2003-05 making sure the quarterback was integral in the run game. You say Armwood Football is synonymous with defense, but I think it’s running the ball as well. Anytime you say Armwood Defense I think Armwood’s run game has to be associated with it. Chris Taylor did a really good job back in the day with that with the Jameel Williams’ and the Justin Hickman’s and as we’ve moved forward, and developed into a little more spread–we’re still quarterback-heavy in the run game.”

Davis alludes to the fact that an “all-in” mentality at Armwood literally means all-or-nothing–which requires guys on offense taking on the aura of their patented defensive mentality. If you think that the defense is the worst of your problems when playing Armwood, then you’d better reconfigure the approach. When it comes to playing QB at Armwood, you better be the unequivocal leader of that locker room and on the field.

“I think we just put a lot of pressure on our guys, more-and-more pressure over the years since I’ve taken over, especially. Those guys really are our hardest workers. They have a defensive mentality in terms of getting after people–making defenses pay for what they’re doing–they just play with the Armwood mentality as a quarterback whether it’s toughness mentally or physically. That’s a little bit about what the mentality is here.”

They’re a hell-of-a-lot more than game managers though, so don’t get it twisted. Although the question posed to Davis upon further review sounded like that’s exactly what we were insinuating, it couldn’t be any further from the intention. Although the idea of QB’s being game “managers” usually suggests some sort of deficiency as the levels of football get higher, having someone that can effectively run the game between the hash marks at the high school level is worth its weight in gold. Being labeled a “manager” at Armwood isn’t a bad thing–at all–according to Davis.

“No doubt. I definitely didn’t take it as though you thought they were game managers by any means. But you know what? They do manage our games. The majority of the calls at the line of scrimmage are done by them, especially in the run game. They do such a phenomenal job of that,” said Davis.

“Like I said, mentally by far they have to be the most-superior guy on the field for us and we’ve been able to do that throughout the years. To Jameel Williams to checking mid-line and veer, to Justin Hickman being able to check into the right iso scheme we had with Eric Smith to a Josh Grady being able to check our zone schemes. Guys like Darrian McNeal being able to check the run game scheme and the quarterback power stuff to Noah Johnson being able to handle the RPO (run-pass option) stuff checking it to the right side. I think game manager is not a negative thing here at Armwood High School–in other aspects of things people might see it that way–maybe game manager is a bad description–maybe game ‘controller’ is a better way to put it.”


Currently, Davis has the pleasure of having Darrian “Pickles” McNeal as his quarterback. If you spend enough time around coaches, you can clearly disseminate when they are giving you coach-speak about a prospect versus when they could spend another two hours talking about a certain player. Their tone changes–their verbiage and their pace both change. You can literally visualize them grinning from ear-to-ear while describing their attributes. Nobody better to ask than Davis about where McNeal stands among the line of QB’s that have made their way through the halls since 2003, and nobody more proud to answer the question than Davis, either.

“I played quarterback in ’03 with Jameel and then I started coaching quarterbacks in ’06 and still coach them today–so I’ve had an integral part (I would think) in those guys development. The thing with Darrian is, he might be the most-explosive guy we’ve ever had at the position, but what he brings with it is he brings the intellectual ability that a Josh Grady had, and he might be the best of all of them because he takes from a little bit from all of them. He’s got the wiggle that Jameel Williams had, he’s got the toughness that a Justin Hickman had, he’s got the passion or the game that Noah Johnson had, he’s got the top-end speed of a Mywan Jackson–so it’s like he puts it all together and is just so special. I mean, we were out there a few practices ago and I threw a play out there that asks for a check–and I know we haven’t gone over that play since last December–I don’t even have to say a word. He knows exactly what to do. There’s no questions asked and we just go. As an offensive coordinator, I really think that allows us to be so special because our quarterback is a coach on the field and he can put us in so many correct situations. That allows us to be special. We don’t have too many bad plays here on offense at Armwood–and that can wear on a defense when you’re good play-good play-GREAT play.”

McNeal’s big-play capability is just as debilitating as the defense that is giving up an average of just three points a game. You can be down two-three touchdowns in the blink of an eye by the end of the first quarter and the game is essentially over. Those two-three scores can literally come in less than five plays with McNeal under center. And if you think 2-3 touchdowns isn’t THAT big of a deal against the Hawks, consider the fact they gave up 39 points to two teams in weeks seven and eight–20 to TBT and 19 to Brandon–while giving up a COMBINED 29 points the rest of the eight weeks during the regular season. Without question, McNeal, who was listed at 5-10/175 on the roster last season is just as brutal on coaches as a defensive end or tackle or even a DB that’s harassing the other side throughout the game.


“I can give you two examples of that last year. Plant–I thought–had the best defense we played all year outside of Miami Central and I think that they (Plant) could’ve even played with them (Central). Their defense last year was phenomenal. Our defense had gotten only three points out of the two turnovers they’d created. Plant drives the ball and puts us at the one-yard line. We tell Darrian, ‘make the right inside-zone check’ and 99-yards later it’s 10-0. Against Sickles, he makes a wrong-read, but Darrian makes the guy who he was reading miss him and he’s gone for the first touchdown of the game. As a defensive coordinator, you have to be looking at it like, ‘this play should’ve been dead’ and instead it’s seven points going the other way.”

So with Armwood’s success clearly attributed to consistent QB play as much as anything else, it’s fair to say they’re a quarterback factory, right? Well, not exactly. What they do with their QB’s isn’t going to have coaches flocking to Seffner to find their next 4,000+ yards-per season passer. Again, if you’re looking for the next Tom Brady or Dan Marino, you’re not going to look for them at Armwood, and that’s just fine with them. They have a formula that is tested and proven to be successful in record-setting spades. It is a formula that has yet to be solved by opposing teams not named Miami Central and a formula that Armwood embraces whether it fits the “standard” description of a quarterback or not.

“If you’re talking about an Armwood quarterback in terms of being 6′-5″ and a gunslinger–that’s not the description of an Armwood quarterback. An Armwood quarterback has all the elements and all the characteristics that you want in a guy that is not that six-five gunslinger. He’s a leader on the field, he does everything he asks you to do. The vast majority of the quarterbacks at Armwood have been the hardest working guys we’ve had in the program. So they bring all of the other intangibles besides what those guys have–and of course, it helps that the quarterbacks we’ve had are pretty damn athletic as well.”